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Swinton to Ilton & the Druid's Temple

To the west of Masham the countryside is a picturesque pattern of low moors and rich farmland bisected by a skein of little streams which flow into the River Ure. There's also much of historical interest to enjoy in exploring the area on this 8 mile walk which starts from outside the imposing gates of Swinton Park (GR 214798). Beyond the gates of 1740 and across an extensive lawn is the house, much of which was built in 1800 by James Wyatt for William Danby (1752-1833). It is dominated by a big round tower  added in the 1820s. We shall come across more of Danby's works.


Distance: 8 miles

Time: 5 hours

Grade: moderate

Conditions: quiet lanes, well signed field and moor paths, one short steep climb

Refreshments: Swinton Park, The Bivouac

OS Explorer Maps: 302 and 26

Originally published: 30 November 2012


We start across a prominent ladder stile over the road on the left as you face the gates. The path is in good condition and well signed across half a dozen fields and two streams to Roomer Lane. Turn left along the lane to Roomer Common with, at its centre, a prehistoric earthwork or Roman marching camp consisting of a rectangular ditch surrounding a raised central area.


The camp is seen on the left as we bear right, up across the common to the road from Masham to Grewelthorpe. Turn right again for another 100 yards to a footpath on the right into trees. Follow the main forest trail as it heads gradually uphill through the plantation which is still called Nutwith Common.


In less than a mile the track reaches a tarred lane where bear right. For the next half mile it's level going to a junction where go straight ahead. The now climbs to a second junction. Again go ahead up a narrow lane past a couple of bins marked High House.


In 200 yards, and shortly after a gate the track is crossed by the Ripon Rowel long distance path. Turn right. Marked with distinctive black rowels (part of a horse's spur for which Ripon was once famous) on a yellow background, it becomes our route for the next 4 miles. The path bears right over open moorland before passing in front of a line of shooting butts. On this section there are sweeping views eastwards to the Hambleton Hills and the Vale of Mowbray. At the end of the line the path goes left to a wall stile and then descends under a sturdy oak and over two similar stiles to Ilton.


Go straight ahead here along the village street leaving Manor Cottage on the right. We then pass a red phone box which the local Community Action group is trying to save by encouraging use by passers-by. A steep descent follows to a crossing of Sole Beck at a ford, with footbridge.


On the far side take the first path on the left. After one field it turns sharp right and heads uphill to High Knowle, now The Bivouac where, whatever the weather, refreshment is offered daily (closed January).On the far side the access track takes you past a field of yurts to Knowle Lane. The lane leads left, to the Druid's Temple, one of Yorkshire's most extraordinary follies. Built by William Danby after his Grand Tour of Europe, it consists of a large oval of standing stones, dolmens, altars and trilithons and other features of Danby's vivid imagination. They flank the approach to the temple itself, a dank imitation of a prehistpric burial chamber. The men who created it were paid one shilling (5p) per day. It's good as a shelter from the elements but hardly as a dwelling for even the most ascetic of hermits who Danby, reputedly, encouraged to live there. It would have astonished his visitors, however, just as it does today.


We now return down Knowle Lane and go left on the Ripon Rowel at the entrance to The Bivouac. After one field pass through a gateway flanked by large tumbled ashlar sandstone blocks, perhaps the remains of another Danby folly. The well signed path then descends to the left of Low Knowle Farm. After two more gates extensive views open up of Leighton Reservoir, Colsterdale and Masham Moor.


One stile follows before we come to a junction of paths.Go sharp right, almost doubling back, following the Ripon Rowel as a field track to Broadmires Farm. Continue along its access track to a tarred lane. Go left for some 400 yards to another junction close to the River Burn.


From here I've mapped two alternative routes for the final 2 miles.


The slightly longer of the two crosses the Burn left, and climbs past the former Swinton sawmill. In another 200 yards go right following the Ripon Rowel path on Low Moor Lane. It's an easy half mile amble before you reach a tarred road. Turn right down to recross the Burn at Shaws Bridge before continuing back into Swinton.


The shorter route, signed Swinton, follows the Burn along a quiet traffic free lane with the river as a cheery companion for most of the way. The lane soon crosses a ford (footbridge provided) and then climbs to a junction.Go left keeping the imposing 10ft high stone wall of Swinton Park on the right.


In 200 yards our walk crosses the battlemented Quarry Gill Bridge built for Danby by John Foss. Its predecessor, a packhorse bridge, is visible way below it on the south side. Just before the bridge, on a little hill on the left are the remains of a large stone shelter with seat inscribed "This seat overlooking some of the most beautiful works of the Creator was built with a grateful mind by William Danby Esq, AD 1832". Dense woodland now obscures the view.


Beyond Quarry Gill the lane follows the wall side for another mile back to Swinton.

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